As of February 2016, after 416 posts, and over six and a half years of blogging, I'm taking a break.
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Abraham, my new otter skeleton


For ages I have wanted to have an otter skeleton. I came so so close to getting one a few years ago but I  was stopped by the police when dad was far too honest. Then three months ago I got an email from a really nice man called Mr Evans who is a retired museum curator in the north of Scotland.

He had read about me in the Times and he gave me some useful advice and he said that he had an otter skeleton that I could have if I wanted. I said I would love to have it ! It took ages to arrange to get it (I'll explain why below) then about three weeks ago he called down and dropped it off !

Otters are fantastic creatures. They live near water and eat fish. They look about the size of a cat but can weigh a lot more. My Evans had been given the otter after it had been killed by a car in October 2001 (before I was even born !). He buried it for ages and only dug it up recently. It was about 11kg (about twice the weight of a cat) and was a male.

First of all I needed to get a licence ! Otters are European Protected Species so you need to apply for a special licence to have anything at all that came off an otter, and because I live in Scotland I had to apply to Scottish Natural Heritage:

It took about three or four weeks for my licence to come through. They added it on my licence for my pipistrelle bat

After it came through I emailed Mr Evans to let him know and he said he would drop it off in person when he was passing by. He came one Saturday with some other bones as well (like the bird heads I wrote about last week) and he was a really kind man and I showed him room with all my skulls and we talked about bones for a bit. After he left I laid out the otter skeleton. It was incomplete but still pretty amazing:

The skull is quite unusual because it is flat with quite a large part of the skull behind the eye:

Otters are from the mustelid family, which includes badgers, weasels, martens, stoats, ferrets, otters and polecats. Some of these are quite similar (like weasels and stoats) and others are very different (like badgers). Here is my otter skull on the right next to one of my badger skeletons (with a broken sagital crest): You can see that the eye on the otter is much further forward to the rest of the skull.

This is the otter skull in the middle between my marten skull (which I haven't written about yet) and my badger skull. The marten skull is 8.5cm long, the otter is 12cm and the badger is 14.3cm.

The otters head is quite flat with the eyes and nose on the same level (like a seal) which is helpful for breathing while swimming. Here it is on the right with a badger on the left:

Underneath the bone between the spine and the nasal entry is smooth with no cracks meaning it is an adult with fully fused bones. The skull is smooth with no sign of the plates joined, like a badger.

Another thing that is like a badger is that the jaw is completely hinged to the top of the skull so it can't dislocate, which gives them an extra strong bite when catching fish.

Otters may look cute but....

...they have awesome teeth ! Like all mustelids, they have four cheek teeth (the ones after the canine) and overlapping canines.

The upper canines are chipped, and it has all the top teeth but some on the bottom are missing:

The other bones are also interesting. The humerus (which is the bone between the shoulder and the elbow) is thick, bent and twisted, especially if you compare it to the thin and long femur.

You can see how strange it is by comparing it to the shoulder blade and humerus of a cat, which should be about the same.

I think this means that the bone has developed for a special purpose. I think it means the otters have very strong front arms for swimming and maybe pulling water in a certain direction.

This was a very special present. Thank you very much Mr Evans !

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Jack N said...

Awesome, are you going to bleach it with peroxide?

Findlay Wilde said...

A great post. Are there any other skeletons that you really, really want to get your hands on? From Findlay

Jake said...

@Jack: I wasn't planning to. The outer shiny layer of the skull seems to have worn away so I don't want to risk it.
@Findlay: lots, but maybe a green iguana skeleton the most.

JS said...

Thanks!! I have found a complete jaw of an eurasian otter, now I can complete the skull in clay, using the photo's above. Good luck!!

britta said...

hello jake. i came from germany and works in a natural museum in kassel. in the moment i wants to prepare a lynx skeleton. i look for detailed photos from a lynx skeleton, because its my first lynx. i have problem with tarsal bones,carpus and the real position of the lynx.
can you help me?
from preparation technical assistent
britta wienpahl

Jake said...

Sorry, can't help, tarsals and carpals are always tricky ! But big cats are all quite similar, so you might find a photo of another big cat's skeleton which might help.

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